Regina Spektor "What We Saw From the Cheap Seats"

SPEKTOR’S PIANO PROWESS, GORGEOUS VOCALS, DEFT EAR FOR MELODY, AND QUIRKY SENSIBILITY HIGHLIGHT THIS ALBUM

Regina Spektor has had a curious career thus far. Critics who marvel at her obvious talent are quick to skewer her for her eccentricities. Meanwhile, her rabid fan base embraces her penchant for quirky musical divergences and oddball antics. Ultimately, one must follow her own muse and Spektor’s directs her to traverse a variety of cultures using her unique perspective to give voice to a menagerie of characters. Pulling equally from her classical music training and her active imagination, she creates memorable songs that resonate in deep and often surprising fashion.

Another aspect of Spektor’s quirkiness is that she does not write her music down, preferring to hold it in her head. The songs on What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, with a few exceptions, have traveled in her brain for most of a decade, occasionally making it into live performances. One can only imagine the maturation process involved which might explain why this is her most cohesive record. Setting the stage for the release is “Small Town Moon” a piano based ballad that breaks into an exuberant revelry half way through. The lyrics seem personal without revealing much about the artist, allowing listeners to personalize the song for themselves. It’s a neat trick that Spektor uses often, but just as often her songs are character studies. An example of this is “Oh Marcello” in which Spektor sings in the voice of an Italian mother trying to find acceptance for her killer son. The song also highlights Spektor’s use of cultural reference points, particularly from others songs. You can’t miss her use of Nina Simone’s hit “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Spektor’s international flare pops up again on the album’s first single, “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas), a Caribbean flavored pop tune with a French refrain.

Known for her idiosyncratic approach to both lyrics and music, Spektor has reigned in her penchant for bizarre elements (like the dolphin noises she made on her last album Far). What We Saw From the Cheap Seats finds Spektor writing more intense ballads. Several deal with loss, including the bittersweet “Firewood,” which balances hope with resignation, and features a beautiful piano passage that underscores Spektor’s classical training. “How” captures the emptiness of losing love, either to altered loyalties or death. Spektor offers a unique perspective on art in the edgy “All The Rowboats,” and “Ballad of a Politician” skewers her subjects as societal whores.

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats was recorded during an eight week stretch last summer with producer Mike Elizondo, and percussionist Aaron Sterling. Jack Dishel of the Moldy Peaches and also Spektor’s husband, offers backing vocals, and Jay Bellerose appears to enhance percussion. John Daversa plays trumpet on “The Party.” The album is minimalist in this sense, but when we speak of Spektor’s work, the layers of her songwriting and the nuance of her vocals go so deep, there is nothing minimalist about it.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Host)